I recently got back from a trip to Kenya where I spent a lot of time at one of our newer partner churches in Dandora. Dandora is a community in Nairobi known as the dump- there is a literal mountain of trash that dominates the horizon, and many of the residents make a living from picking through trash and re-selling discarded items on along the main road that cuts through the town.
The church we have been partnering with for the better part of a year, Dandora PEFA Church, stands out like a cathedral among the small, informal houses and buildings along the street. As I was walking around the church compound, I kept commenting to the pastor how impressive the gardens and walkways around the church building were. He beamed as he talked about the care their leadership team had put into planning out the grassy areas and gardens on the grounds of the church, and then he said something that I think is at the core of how we are called to live as Christians:
"We take pride in making this space beautiful for the community - our hope is that, as we continue to care for the grounds here, the community will see what the whole area could look like and it will eventually inspire people to care for own plots this way."
I love this concept so much both on a literal level and a metaphorical level. I believe that, just as this church is intentional about showing its neighbors how physically beautiful the whole community could be, we are called to demonstrate to our neighbors the spiritual concepts of beauty and grace. Its the essence of the scripture when Jesus prays for beleivers in John 17:
"I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world."
You of course know this scripture as the "in the world but not of the world" piece of the Bible. The beauty of this concept, though, is not that we are called to survive in the world and hunker down, avoiding contact with the evils of the world until we are one day called home, but that we are called to walk right into communities that are hurting, build our homes there, and make those homes well-kept beautiful sanctuaries of healing.
Are we caring for our own souls in a way that will inspire those around us to do the same? How can we take this concept and apply it to our own homes and families? For me, the most beautiful part of this metaphor is that soul care (or garden care, in the literal case of the church in Dandora) alone is not enough-- we have to invite people into our lives in order for them to catch the vision for their own lives. A well kept garden behind a compound wall can never inspire beauty in the greater community unless people are consistently invited in to walk through the garden and be refreshed by the experience.
My challenge to all of us this week is twofold-- practice soul care in your life and the life of your family, and invite others into your life and family so they can be refreshed in your presence.